A member of my team is 14 weeks’ pregnant and is due to come on a business trip with me to South East Asia. While I have no problem with her being pregnant, I am concerned she will not be able to handle the trip. It will be spread over 10 days and we have eight flights. She has says she is worried about it herself and ideally I would like to replace her with someone else to reduce the risk of her falling ill. How do I tackle this issue sensitively? A S, Abu Dhabi
Hi A S, what a pleasant surprise to know that someone is thinking about a person over and above a task in the corporate world. I probably wouldn’t have said that if you had not added the words “she is worried about it herself”, as my very first thought when reading your letter was: well, talk to her – clearly that stage is done and dusted.
I sense you are not the lady’s manager but rather a colleague and maybe even a friend. In that case, why not reopen the original conversation with her – and I suggest that before doing so, have your “rubber-walled desired outcome” clear in mind. What I mean is that you clearly seem to prefer that she doesn’t come along (for both her own health and the sake of the quality of the meetings). However, let’s not block out any ideas that she might have. In addition, when surrounding your outcome with flexibility, it will probably allow any alternatives you both have to move beyond those you yourself had thought of.
In the conversation, perhaps the verbal “kiss, kick, kiss” technique could contribute, with niceties at the beginning, the “kick” incorporating some tough questions that she probably wouldn’t have alternatives for should the worst-case scenario of sickness occur, and hence be the ultimate reason why she would choose not to go. Then some more niceties to end the encounter with no hard feelings.
I would get people involved in helping me to come up with solutions to my new problem of what I’ll do without her on the trip, should this occur. If the outcome is that she is not going, and even though you would therefore be accompanied by someone else, are there some duties of the trip that you could show couldn’t be done without her? That way, she would still be involved. For example, maybe she is the “control tower” of the trip, the go-to person to call for those forgotten documents, for asking the questions to the right person, for advising when a specific person in the office can be reached, for consolidating all of the visits into one report, for completing follow-up work to the visited clients.
If the above does not yield your desired outcome, I would assertively ask her, under the light of genuine concern, to put some thought into an action plan that would kick in if the worst-case scenario did happen, given that one of you will need to be with the client at all times. That should spark some reflection within her that she may need to get through any hardship alone and thereby litmus-test her ability to initiate self-care. I personally think that should be enough for her, yet if she still seems adamant to go, am wondering what effect a “horror story” from a previous trip may add.
Lastly, if all else fails and you don’t reach your desired outcome, carry a list of health service numbers which can easily support her in the remote location, and be prepared to lead the meetings all by yourself. Yet do remember, women can be resilient ... the worst-case scenario hasn’t happened yet, and may not ever happen.
Apply the Boy Scout credo. Be prepared, in this case, for the “before, during and after” of the journey.
Debbie Nicol, managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at email@example.com for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague